Penn State Intercom......April 18, 2002

Spanier acts on Faculty Senate
calendar recommendations

Statement from President Spanier
Calendar chronology

By Tysen Kendig
Public Information

Two years of discussion and debate over Penn State's academic year calendar have culminated with President Graham B. studying1Spanier's implementation of a calendar revision that will impact the number of instructional, examination and study days each fall semester.

This decision, effective for the fall 2003 term, comes after careful consideration of recommendations sent to Spanier by the University's Faculty Senate on Feb. 26, as well as input from the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and members of the community.

"The University's academic year calendar has been a concern and a source of discussion for faculty and students for several years," said Spanier in a written statement on his decision. "Faculty need a calendar that is adaptable to their approach to teaching and learning. Students expect a high-quality educational experience within a calendar format that accommodates their summer job schedules, internship placements, co-op experiences and an occasional break in the schedule of classes to study, see their families and refresh themselves."

Particularly affected by these factors is the fall semester, long a focal point in calendar debate. The University has recognized that the traditional mid-August start of classes creates numerous work and family conflicts for faculty and students.

To help rectify this problem -- as well as the widespread absences that have resulted from multiple interruptions to the fall schedule of classes -- Spanier has approved a 16-week fall semester schedule, which will include 14 weeks of classes, one 5-day week of finals and assessment, and five days without class. As a result, through this decade classes will begin as early as Aug. 30 or as late as Sept. 5, but never earlier than the week before Labor Day.

The following will be days without classes:

* Labor Day;

* the Friday at the end of the sixth week of class, designated as a study day; and

* the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week.

Spanier hopes this compromise will preserve the integrity of the academic schedule. Students and faculty still will enjoy a brief, mid-semester break and receive an extended Thanksgiving vacation, without substantially decreasing the number of instructional days or the quality of education offered by Penn State.

"All calendar deliberations immediately introduce the necessity to accept trade-offs, notably because there simply are not enough days in the fall to meet all conditions," said Spanier. "In the case of holidays, the only way we can accommodate many of the calendar constraints is to hold classes on certain days that other organizations might indeed observe as holidays."

The result will be an overall academic year consisting of 145 instructional days and 10 assessment/exam days -- very close to the Big Ten average and still nearly a week longer than the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and the State System of Higher Education.

"Comparisons with other universities show that the current class attendance issue may be related to Penn State's scheduled number of class days being the greatest in the Big Ten," added Spanier.

The changes address the fundamental principles emphasized by the Faculty Senate. Among these key tenets are flexibility, ample time for orientation and performance assessment activities, appropriate breaks in each semester and a post-Labor Day start to fall classes.

"I am most appreciative of the hard work and good thinking of the special Senate Committee, which consulted widely and brought useful focus to a complex issue," said Spanier. "I also am grateful for the interest of USG and for the scores of e-mails I received from faculty and students."

The revised schedule -- which is not anticipated to affect the length of class times, nor will it change the spring semester calendar in any way -- applies to all Penn State campuses except The Dickinson School of Law, the College of Medicine, Penn State Great Valley and the Pennsylvania College of Technology.  

Tysen Kendig can be reached at